Hackney Picturehouse hosts Amnesty International’s Sidelines festival of football films next month ahead of the World Cup. MarvMarsh investigates.
“I’m sure I left my towel here.”
If you are a football fan then you will know the World Cup begins on 12th June, and if you aren’t a football fan then you probably know the World Cup starts at some point soon and oh god more football didn’t it just finish how can there be more? But whichever group you fall into, you will certainly have heard of football. It is unavoidable. To be fair, if you’re reading this you aren’t trying particularly hard to avoid it, so don’t complain.
Football’s popularity of course means it has the attention of advertisers and as another World Cup begins slouching towards our televisions, we can be certain it will arrive accompanied by unspeakably cynical, cold-eyed and utterly dreadfully wrong-on-every-count adverts eager to demonstrate the obvious connection between football and whatever shabby product wants hawking. Even in non-World Cup times it is used to sell everything from Sugar Puffs to wine to shampoo so for the next month, prepare yourself, make peace with whatever flavour god appeals and above all don’t look directly at the screen.
So football is a big deal. You know what else is a big deal? Human rights. And if football can get the world interested in Sugar Puffs (dubious claim, that) then surely it can do the same for something that actually matters. That is the motivating principle of Sidelines, the first Amnesty International UK football film festival, which will run from 6th to 8th June at Hackney Picturehouse in London. Organised in association with the football quarterly The Blizzard, the festival, in the words of Amnesty, “will be a celebration of thought-provoking films, lively Q&As and panel discussions, aimed at bringing the two worlds of football and human rights together.”
Now, the world of football has a somewhat patchy recent history when it comes to human rights; and one might wonder if a world where star players are found guilty of racially abusing opponents, a banana is thrown at a black player at an internationally televised game and, at the time of writing, the Chief Executive of the English Premier League remains unsacked despite using his work email account to denigrate women, has much to offer. But that is the point of the festival: football should be better. The problem is if football is “the world game”, as so many people love to call it for some reason, then it is only going to reflect the world back at itself unless a real effort is made to do otherwise.
Across the three days of the festival, the way football is weaved into the lives of people all over the world is explored and questions will be asked about how that privileged position can and should be better utilised. Headlining is the documentary Looking for Rio, an hour-long exploration of the development of club football in Rio de Janeiro, placing it in its social context, made by Eric Cantona. Yes. Eric Cantona. He of Manchester United, flying kicks and pretending-to-be-a-farmer-to-get-laid fame. Excitingly for fans of him or of any of those things, Eric and his two brothers will take part in a Q&A after the screening. I assume questions should be restricted to things brought up by the documentary but, well, I leave it up to you to decide what you ask.
Other films that might interest include The Railroad All-Stars, a documentary following the story of a group of sex workers in Guatemala who decide that a good way to respond to the difficulties attendant with being a sex worker in Guatemala is to form a football team. The team is quickly banned but the banning turns out to be the best thing that could have happened; not because they are terrible – I have no idea how good the sex workers of Guatemala football team was – but because, after all the maltreatment they have received, it is the banning of their football team that interests the media and brings attention to their struggles.
If the sex workers of Guatemala aren’t for you then the festival also offers films on the diverse subjects of a group of Dutch fans called the Superjews, the South Sudan football team and a girl’s football team based in a shanty town in Argentina. The full list is available on the website and I urge you to have a browse.
The only bum note for me is the inclusion of the film Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. Unlike everything else in the festival, this is not so much concerned with human rights as it is with Zinedine Zidane’s slightly overweight puffing body being hoisted around a football pitch to little real effect. I suppose it might be a searing indictment of the way footballers are treated as products in a hyper-capitalist environment, but it is more likely to just be a bit silly.
So, avoid Zidane, but give something else from the festival a try. If you have an interest in football there will be something there for you. I am going to take your interest in human rights as read.